Trips On A Tankful
Pahrump, Nevada is tucked into a long narrow desert valley between Las Vegas and California and serves as the RV Capital of Nevada. With five major casinos and four hotels/motels, a new Bed-and-Breakfast, and over 11 state-of-the-art RV Parks and Resorts, Pahrump makes a great base camp while visiting the tourist destinations surrounding Pahrump in eastern California and southwestern Nevada.
The first section below (Amargosa River Basin Area) lists points of interest found near the origin of the Amargosa River near Beatty, Nevada and ending in Death Valley National Park. The second section (Las Vegas Area) lists points of interest found on the north side of the Spring Mountain Range – at Mount Charleston – and continuing southeast to Red Rock Canyon just west of Las Vegas.
Be sure to stop by the Chamber of Commerce and pick up maps and brochures to plan your Trips-On-A-Tank-Full.
AMARGOSA RIVER BASIN AREA
Amargosa is Spanish for “bitter water.” Amargosa Valley was named after the seasonal desert river that flows when rainwater floods the washes and becomes the Amargosa River. In the 1800s, the Southern Paiute and the Western Shoshone tribes occupied the area. In 1830, mountain men, horse traders, and pioneers opened a trail through the area that ran from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California later used as the route to Southern California and gold, the Old Spanish Trail.
(US Hwy 95 – 77 miles north of Pahrump)
Founded in the late 1800s as the central supply hub of the Bullfrog Mining District, Beatty is steeped in local history and offers visitors a look into its mining past.
Beatty Museum & Historical Society
(US Hwy 95, Main Street)
The museum features a collection of documents, books, photos, and artifacts that retell the history of Beatty’s mining days. The latest addition to the museum is an outdoor display of equipment used at the Bullfrog Mining District.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
(Hwy 374 – 4 miles west of Beatty)
Rhyolite is another vivid example of the boom and bust cycle of most Nevada mining towns. Gold was discovered in Rhyolite in 1904 by famous Death Valley prospector Frank “Shorty” Harris. By 1907 an estimated 6,000 people had flocked to this boom town in the desert.
Three railroads – Las Vegas & Tonopah, Tonopah & Tidewater, and Bullfrog-Goldfield – were extended into Rhyolite. At its peak, Rhyolite boasted 50 saloons, two churches, 18 stores, two undertakers, two dentists, an opera house, a telephone company, electric power plant, three ice plants, several hotels, four newspapers, two stock exchanges, as well as a number of profitable mines and mills (one owned by Charles Schwab).
Rhyolite turned out to be a disappointment in terms of gold production. While there was gold in the area, it was difficult to extract. Today, Rhyolite is one of the most photogenic of Nevada’s ghost towns. In the late afternoon, the sun casts marvelous light on the ruins, which include the three-story Cook bank building and the former Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad Depot. Rhyolite also has one of the last bottle houses in the state, built with more than 20,000 bottles at a time when building materials were scarce.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
(Located at Rhyolite Ghost Town)
The museum is a 7.8 acre outdoor sculpture site near the ghost town of Rhyolite. It originated in 1984 with the creation and installation of a major sculpture, The Last Supper, by Belgian artist Albert Szukaiski. The museum features an historic early 1900s house, offers a total of seven monumental sculptures back-dropped by spectacular south-facing views across the Mojave Desert, and is surrounded by varied desert terrains.
An on-site visitor center with exhibits and a gift shop is open some weekends, September through May. However, you are welcome to visit the museum anytime whether the visitor center is open or not. Admission is free and the museum is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Goldwell Open Air Museum seeks to continue Albert Szukaiski’s art-making vision by offering Artist Residency and Workspace Programs to challenge and support the creative growth of artists from a variety of disciplines. All artists work primarily out of the Red Barn Art Center nearby (www.goldwellmuseum.org/redbarn).
Amargosa Valley, NV
Hwy 373, 53 miles from Pahrump
(Amargosa Valley Chamber of Commerce)
There’s some big terrain in Amargosa Valley, ready to be explored by ATVs and other off-road vehicles. Located southwest off US Hwy 95 on Hwy 373, you can also journey through history by exploring the valley itself. Archaeologists have uncovered pottery and tools dating back to 1,000 A.D.
Amargosa Dunes, aka Big Dune
This playground encompasses about five square miles of dunes and dips with the center peak topping out at 500 feet. These hills are a well-kept secret and mostly used by locals, but expect to find plenty of other off-roaders on the weekends.
Getting there: From the function of Hwy 373 and US Hwy 95, drive 7.6 miles north. Turn left at Valley View and drive about 2 miles west. Turn right at the dirt road leading to the dunes (usually there are a variety of arrows painted on the pavement near the turn-off). There aren’t any BLM signs until you get to the dunes.
Tread lightly! Big Dune is home to sensitive plants and animals.
Death Valley Junction, CA
Death Valley Junction was the headquarters of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 1900s. In 1923, one could hear the sounds of a train passing by, children playing in the school yard, and laughter and conversations coming from the Corkhill Community Hall (better known today as the Amargosa Opera House).
Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House and Hotel
(Hwy 127 & Bell Vista Ave/State Line Rd)
A once in a lifetime experience awaits you in a tiny little town known as Death Valley Junction, for this is the home of the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. For more than 35 years, Marta Becket has lived and shared her art and dreams with those fortunate enough to find this wonderful and magical place. Located a few miles west of the California/Nevada border, near Death Valley National Park, no journey to Pahrump would be complete without a visit to this unique and inspiring destination.
Today, Marta Becket is still performing to a full house most every Sunday Matinee. Rich Regnell, Director of Operations, is Marta’s support. Call the number above or visit the website for more information and a schedule of performances. Reservations are a must. The season runs from December (after Christmas) to early May. Special dates and times can be arranged for groups or tours of 50 people or more.
FYI: In 1981, the town of Death Valley Junction was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, NV
(22 miles west of Pahrump on Bell Vista Ave/State Line Rd)
The refuge is a haven for rare native wildlife and for people. In a world of dwindling natural areas, especially wetlands, the refuge protects a unique piece of the earth. Here you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city, admire the beauty of the desert and wetlands, marvel at the variety of plant and animal life, and know it will be here for generations to come. The refuge encompasses over 22,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands and alkaline desert uplands. The name Ash Meadows refers to the abundance of ash trees once found in the area.
Stop by the refuge headquarters to view the interpretive kiosk and walk the Crystal Spring Interpretive Boardwalk Trail. Opportunities for observing the endangered Ash Meadows pupfish exist at all springs, but are best at the spring at Point of Rocks Interpretive Boardwalk Trail. Be sure to visit the Longstreet Cabin at the Longstreet Springs Interpretive Boardwalk Trail. Jack Longstreet (1834-1928), a colorful character of area history, settled in the Ash Meadows area in 1865; he built and lived in the cabin until 1899. Over his lifetime, Longstreet was a feared gunman, a friend of Native Americans, a farmer, a miner, and a saloon keeper. Longstreet’s cabin was restored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004/2005 using as much of the original building materials as possible. (The Longstreet Inn, Casino & RV Resort at State Line on Hwy 373 in Amargosa Valley, Nevada carries his name.)
At the bookstore find a variety of literature and other items of interest including wildlife and wildflowers brochures, maps of the refuge, bottles of water, and T-shirts.
Wildlife observation and bird watching are popular activities at the refuge and a bird list is available at the headquarters or online. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset and admission is free.
Shoshone Village, CA
(Intersection of Hwy 127/Hwy 178 in California)
Borax mining led to the establishment of Shoshone in 1905. The town Shoshone was founded by Ralph “Dad” Fairbanks, an Amargosa Valley entrepreneur. In the 1920s, Charles Brown, the son-in-law of Fairbanks, took over ownership of the town. In 1938, Brown became a California Senator – a post he held for 24 years.
(Hwy 127, Shoshone, CA)
The Conservancy is a Death Valley area conservation organization whose mission is to protect the land, water, and beauty of the Amargosa River Basin. The area features a unique free flowing river in the Mojave Desert which supports a world class array of rare and endangered species dependent upon its water. The region’s long-term water supply and numerous fresh water springs feed the Amargosa River and Ash Meadows, and supply water to Death Valley National Park.
The Conservancy offers a series of outings in the beautiful Amargosa River Valley. Fall tours include: Saratoga Springs & Talc Mines; the Amargosa River History Tour; and the Kingston Mine Tour. Spring tours include: the China Date Ranch Outing; the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad Tour; and the Shoshone Outing. Attendance is limited, so please call to reserve your place.
The caves in the soft hills of this wash were used as housing for miners and vagabonds from the early 1900s through the 1960s. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, some of the dwellings featured split levels, stovepipe chimneys, and alcoves.
These hills housed many people famous in the history of Death Valley, including Death Valley Scotty, Shorty Harris, and the Ashford brothers. Pick-up a self-guided walking tour and map at the Shoshone Museum. Take the 3-mile trail that follows the bluffs overlooking Lake Tecopa, or follow the trail behind the Shoshone Museum along the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad grade.
Just across from Dublin Gulch lies the Shoshone Cemetery. For some of the residents of the caves, this became their final home. The historic cemetery bears the remains of Senator Charles Brown and his family, along with many other residents of Shoshone. The Shoshone Museum offers for sale a complete guidebook to the cemetery and its inhabitants.
The museum highlights the history of this area with numerous exhibits. Meet the local mammoths! Browse the Gift Shop. Learn about the area’s fascinating geology, wild life, wild flowers, and history spanning time from prehistoric animals and Native American culture to mining, farming, bootlegging and more. An old 1937 Chevy, parked at the entrance to the museum, prepares visitors for their journey into the past. Mining and farming equipment surround the museum and a geological walk-in-time lines the front walkway.
Off Hwy 127 on the Old Spanish Trail Hwy
In the spring of 1830, Antonio Armijo came through this land in what became the first recorded visit by a European. His path came to be known as the Old Spanish Trail, a route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Spanish settlements in Southern California. John Fremont and Kit Carson were among those who used the trail.
Tecopa was established – in its first of three locations – in 1877, but it wasn’t until the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad reached the town in 1907 – linking the mines to ore processors farther south – that Tecopa grew like a tumble weed. Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company shipped over $4 million in silver and lead ores before the mines finally closed in 1957. Tecopa was nearly abandoned.
But a quiet renaissance has been taking place in Tecopa. By the mid-1990s, descendants of some Tecopa homesteaders had begun restoring some of the abandoned homes. Retirees and other urban refugees began to find the desert oasis an attractive spot to escape the traffic and hassles of city life. The town has become home to artists, engineers, and poets – living side by side with old miners whom never left.
The Amargosa River flows through the canyon creating valuable wildlife habitat for various species like the Amargosa Canyon speckled dace fish. This spectacular canyon attracts numerous migratory birds as well. There are a number of trails leading into this memorable canyon where one can discover a waterfall or slot canyon and be awed by the Palisades rock wall. A number of trail heads are located at China Ranch Date Farm nearby.
China Ranch Date Farm
(Furnace Creek Rd in Tecopa)
China Ranch is a family owned and operated small farm, a lush piece of greenery amidst the forbidding Mojave Desert. Imagine towering cottonwoods and willows by a wandering stream; date palms and abundant wildlife, all hidden away in some of the most spectacular scenery the desert has to offer.
The ranch is rich in history. The Old Spanish Trail is within easy walking distance, as is the historic Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad bed. Hike to nearby old mines, or join one of the interpretive guided nature walks. Visit the Gift Shop and try some delicious date nut bread, muffins, or cookies. Be sure to try one of their famous date shakes!
(2001 Old Spanish Trail Hwy and at China Ranch Date Farm)
Experience how Cynthia sees the Amargosa Valley:
Official Old Spanish Trail Host Property and headquarters of the Old Spanish Trail Association: Tecopa Chapter. Learn about the first pathway for trade and commerce between Santa Fe, NM and Los Angeles, CA. The trail served as an important route for American settlers headed for southern California. Designated by Congress in 2002, it is now the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. Visit the Website at www.oldspanishtrail.org for more information.
Enjoy guided and self-guided tours of interest for photographers, rock hounders, runners, and railroad and mining enthusiasts. Walk ancient Indian paths and explore old mining roads as you traverse the Amargosa Canyon.
Check out what can be done while recycling and redecorating vintage single-wide trailers.
Imagine waking up in a tipi on China Ranch!
Dumont Dunes, CA
(Hwy 127 south of Tecopa)
The Dumont Dunes Area (8,150 acres) is an exciting and remote area for off-highway vehicle recreation. Bordered by steep volcanic hills and the slow running Amargosa River, the region is easily recognized from a distance by its distinctive sand dunes. The elevation here varies from 700 feet, at the river, to 1,200 feet at the top of Competition Hill, the tallest of the dunes.
The historic Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad – to the east – was in operation between 1905 and 1940. The vegetation here consists of creosote scrub, some annual grasses, and wildflowers in the spring. The low elevation in the area makes for warm to extremely hot conditions in late spring and summer.
(Visible from Hwy 127 at Tecopa turn-off))
Grimshaw Lake is in the heart of Tecopa Hot Springs and a perfect spot to bird watch. The year-round riparian habitat attracts both birds and other desert animals to the area. Surrounded by delicate mud hills, it is truly a peaceful and relaxing spot to watch a sunrise or sunset, or take a desert stroll. It is located ¼ mile north of the Tecopa Hot Springs Campground on Tecopa Hot Springs Road.
Tecopa Hot Springs
(6 miles off Hwy 127 on Tecopa Hot Springs Rd)
Tecopa‘s existence has always flourished because of its abundance of water in an otherwise arid land. Legend has it the Southern Paiute brought their lame and sick to bathe in the mineral hot springs. Today, hundreds of “snowbirds” winter in Tecopa to enjoy the benefits of the hot springs as well.
Death Valley National Park, CA
(Hwy 190, off Hwy 127 – 57 miles west of Pahrump)
Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, encompassing 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness. Bound on the west by the towering 11,049-foot Telescope Peak, and on the east by the 5,475-foot Dante’s View, this fabled park features spectacular desert scenery, unusual wildlife, and a rich human history. The Badwater Basin salt pan, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America.
Nature lovers can savor stunning wildflower displays, see fascinating wildlife, and observe unusual desert ecosystems. Geology buffs can tromp through glistening sand dunes, brightly-colored badlands, and eerie salt deposits. For history lovers, there are old charcoal kilns, a living history tour at Scotty’s Castle, and interpretive exhibits about Death Valley’s rough and tumble past.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum
(The heart of Death Valley)
(27 miles from Death Valley Junction on Hwy 190)
Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resorts
Furnace Creek Campground
Furnace Creek Golf Course
At the center of Death Valley National Park lies Furnace Creek oasis. Here you will find the Park’s largest collection of services: accommodations – from tent sites and RV spaces to motel rooms and cottages at the Furnace Creek Ranch and luxurious suites at the Furnace Creek Inn; restaurants – from coffee shop and steakhouse to fine dining; shopping – from groceries to gifts; sports – from swimming and horseback riding to golf; an airstrip, full-service gas station, two museums, and a post office. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum is the main information source for Death Valley National Park. They are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the Center is the Ranger Headquarters of Death Valley National Park.
Must sees in the Furnace Creek Area:
(Off Hwy 178 – the road to Badwater) A scenic loop drive through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills, Artist’s Palette is especially photogenic in late afternoon light. The 9-mile paved road is one-way and is only drivable with vehicles less than 25 feet in length.
(Off Hwy 178) the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats. A temporary lake may form here after heavy rainstorms. Caution: Do not walk on the salt flats in hot weather.
(In Furnace Creek Village) the oldest wood-frame structure in Death Valley; built around 1883 by the legendary Francis Marion “Borax” Smith as the assay office at Monte Blanco.
(Off Hwy 190) the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park, this mountain-top overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the inferno of Death Valley. The paved access road is open to all vehicles less than 25 feet in length.
Devil’s Golf Course
(Off Hwy 178 – the West Side Road) an immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires, the area is so incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” The unpaved road leading to it is often closed after rain.
(Off Hwy 178) hikers entering the narrows of this canyon are greeted by golden badlands within. An interpretive pamphlet is available at the site’s parking lot. It is a two-mile round-trip walk.
(Off Hwy 178) the spur road is 3 miles north of Badwater. Access to this massive arch of stone is by a 1.6-mile dirt road followed by an easy quarter-mile hike.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon
(Off Hwy 190) winding through otherworldly badlands, this 2.7 mile, one-way loop drive is unpaved, but accessible to all standard vehicles other than busses, RVs, and trailers.
(Off Hwy 190) surrounded by a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands, this spectacular view is one of the Death Valley’s most famous. Zabriskie Point is a popular sunrise and sunset viewing location. The viewpoint is a short walk uphill from the parking area.
Scotty’s Castle Visitor Center & Museum
(Hwy 267 off US Hwy 95 near Beatty; or off Hwy 190 in Death Valley)
Summer: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Winter: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This Mediterranean style hacienda, with its fabulous interiors, is a must see! Scotty’s Castle – real name Death Valley Ranch – was the desert hideaway mansion of Chicago insurance magnate Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie. Serious construction started in 1925, and continued into the 1930s – stopping for a while in 1931 while it was decided whether or not Death Valley Ranch had been built within the boundaries of the proposed Death Valley Monument. Johnson’s insurance company went into receivership in 1933, a victim of the Depression, and work on the 8,000 square foot castle was never completed.
While Johnson was the moneyman behind Death Valley Ranch, the site is most closely associated in the public mind with Walter Scott, “Death Valley Scotty,” a local flimflam man that Johnson happened to like. While it is sometimes said that Scotty never actually lived at the ranch, he had a bedroom there, and he also sometimes slept in the ornate kitchen. After Johnson’s death, Scotty lived out the rest of his life at the castle.
Three tours of the castle are offered:
- The Living History Tour: a 50-minute tour of the interior of the main house and annex, led by park rangers dressed in 1930 attire.
- Underground Mystery Tour: a 50-minute tour of the castle’s basement, tunnels and Pelton waterwheel.
- Lower Vine Ranch tour: a 2 ½-hour, 2 mile round trip hike and tour of Death Valley Scotty’s true home, from November to April only.
LAS VEGAS AREA
Spring Mountain National Recreation Area (SMNRA)
Kyle Canyon – HWY 157 off US Hwy 95
Kyle Canyon Visitor Center: 702-872-5486
SMNRA Website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/htnf/districts/smnra/
Lee Canyon – Hwy 156 off US Hwy 95
Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort
Charleston Peak is the crown jewel of the mountain range. Rising to 11,918 feet, the peak is the third highest in the state and the only peak in southern Nevada that rises above timberline. The area encompasses more than 316,000 acres of remarkable beauty and surprising diversity.
Summer months in Kyle Canyon: Explore historic sites, enjoy hunting, mountain biking, camping, picnicking, hiking and backpacking, horseback riding, wildlife and wildflower viewing, cool mountain springs, and rock climbing. The Kyle Canyon Visitor Center is at the end of Hwy 157 (off US Hwy 95).
Winter months in Lee Canyon: Enjoy snow-based activities from downhill and cross-country skiing to sledding and tobogganing at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort located off Hwy US 95 at the end of Hwy 156. The resort is open all winter long including all holidays!
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
(Hwy 159 off Hwy 160 just west of Las Vegas)
The area encompasses 195,819 acres and is visited by more than one million people each year. Red Rock Canyon offers enticements of a different nature including a 13-mile scenic drive, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, rock-climbing opportunities, mountain biking, and a newly remodeled visitor center with exhibit rooms and a book store.
Bonnie Springs Ranch/Old Nevada Village
(Hwy 159 in Red Rock Canyon)
Bonnie Springs Ranch originated in 1843 as a stopover for wagon trains going west on the Old Spanish Trail. In 1846 General Fremont on his way to California, stopped over to gear up for his trip through Death Valley. Today, the ranch is a delight to locals and tourists alike. Highlights include the petting zoo, large animal zoo, bird aviary, and duck pond.
At the Old Nevada Village witness gunfights in the street, an 1880 Melodrama, miniature train, blacksmith display, saloon & beer parlor, cactus garden, opera house, wax museum, boot hill cemetery, the Old Nevada Stamp Mill, and the Old Nevada Chapel.
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
(Hwy 159 in Red Rock Canyon)
The park is located at the base of the colorful cliffs of the magnificent Wilson Range. The many springs in these mountains provided water for the Southern Paiute and later brought the mountain men and early settlers to the area.
Historical sites include the main ranch house, Wilson Cemetery, Sandstone Cabin, Broad and Batten Bunkhouse, Blacksmith’s Shop, hay and horse barn/corral, two-hole outhouse, Chinchilla Shed, and much more.
This 520-acre oasis was developed into a combination working ranch and luxurious retreat by a string of owners who gave the area a long and colorful history – including Howard Hughes.
Living history programs bring the past to life for a brief moment, giving visitors an opportunity to view life as it might have been at the ranch. These programs include costumed role playing, demonstrations, and re-enactments of historic events. Programs are presented in the first person as seen through the eyes of the character, or are narrated descriptions of events in the lives of early pioneers. Demonstrations of pioneering skills are also presented, and visitors are encouraged to participate.
Hiking, primitive camping, and evening cultural/theatrical programs at the amphitheater during summer months are some of the activities offered at the park. The “Theater under the Stars” features musicals and plays for the entire family. Guided tours throughout the historic area are given daily.